How Cœur de pirate broke the cycle of trauma on her new album

The Montreal singer-songwriter almost didn't make this new record — but in the end, it's her boldest, most personal one to date.
Coeur de pirate releases her fourth album on June 1. (Mayxme G. Delisle)

"If the world around you is tumbling down, the last thing you gotta do is close up."

It's a motto that Béatrice Martin, a.k.a. Cœur de pirate, made for herself in 2011 after she had a massive panic attack in the streets of Paris. She saw a sign in a park — En cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé ("In case of a storm, this garden will be closed") — and latched onto it.

"I saw [the sign] as something you're not supposed to do … the phrase just calmed me and ever since then I've been repeating it to myself constantly."

Now seven years later, that sign's words form the name of Martin's fourth full-length album, a fitting label for a set of songs that make up Martin's rawest, most personal to date. Her first album recorded in Paris — and produced by Tristan Salvati — En cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé is where the Montreal singer-songwriter has worked through her anxieties and trauma, setting it to her trademark piano pop and using the album's often upbeat sound as a foil for lyrics about conjugal rape and abuse.

"Somnambule" ("Sleepwalker"), the opening track and the first one Martin wrote for the album, is a melancholic piano ballad about the singer's post-tour depression, while "Prémonition" has the shimmer — and deceptive chorus — of a summer pop hit set to lyrics detailing a toxic relationship. Martin continues to play with the pull of light and dark on "Dans la nuit," a collaboration with Montreal rapper Loud. The grey area of devastation soundtracked by upbeat pop is where Martin seems most comfortable.

It's taken 10 years for Martin to get to this place. The singer has had a successful — though highly public — career, selling more than a million records as she's evolved from piano-based French chansons to a pop-driven sound. While a chance viral video in 2009 — made by a photographer in Quebec and played on Good Morning America — and an endorsement by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton shot then 19-year-old Martin into the English mainstream, the press has spent years zeroing in on the singer's personal life.

After releasing her third album, 2015's Roses — the first to include English songs — Martin went on a 200-plus date tour, exhausting herself. During that time, her U.S. label Cherrytree dissolved, a time that she says was "really traumatizing" professionally. After the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, Martin wrote a piece for Noisey where she came out as queer (though she now refers to herself as pansexual), and received a lot of online backlash. (Martin also started an advice column called "I'm Afraid of Everyone" for Noisey last year, talking about her anxieties.)

By the beginning of 2017, Martin wasn't sure she wanted to continue. But after suffering from writer's block, getting sober and going to therapy, Martin discovered she had a lot more to say.

We talked to the singer about what she's learned about herself, how she stays mentally and physically healthy and how she uses dance to get through the most difficult songs on this album.

When did you start working on this album?

About last year in January ... I had just gotten out of a tour and things were spotty a little bit, I didn't really know where to place myself and I kind of got this really huge creative block that was pretty much caused by, I guess, post-tour depression, which is something that happens to a lot of people. And I didn't really know what to write about.

Everything was kind of a blur and I stopped drinking for a while, like completely, I went cold turkey for a couple of months and everything that I was blocking — everything that had happened in my life — came rushing back. And so that's when I started writing again. And it was like I kind of needed to write, and so that was around September. I needed to write, [or] the record was gonna implode.

When you stopped drinking and everything came rushing to you, was there anything else that you needed to do at that time, in addition to writing?

I guess I'm just recollecting everything and taking time for myself. And that's something that you don't get to do when you're on tour. You're always busy and you don't really see the looming threats and the problems and all that stuff. It's really tough. When I actually, you know, recollected everything and I started writing, that's when I tried to do therapy in a way, and trying to understand what was happening to me. It's really, really interesting.

Was this the first time that you let that out? Or had you experienced this before and not talked about it creatively?

I mean, I've always used songwriting as a therapy, of course, but it's the first time that I actually had knowledge that I guess the trauma within myself and my own demons, and the reason why I'm always in these types of situations, is because I actively searched them, in a way…. If you take the first single, it's called "Premonition," which basically talked about two people that are staying together even though they're horrible for each other. It's basically, we feel safe in situations that we know. And that's how trauma works.

And so if you've been in f--ked up situations at some point when you were a kid or earlier on or any kind of event that really traumatized you, then that will resurface eventually and you will repeat those patterns because that's what you know. That's not the case for everybody, but that was the case for me, and the album is very much about confronting that. And admitting that I was very co-dependent for many years, and that's a tough pill to swallow and you don't really want to feel like [that] — you're like, "Uuugh, I don't want to be that," or the fear of attachment is a big one. Because you've been through so much and you don't know if you can trust anybody anymore.

It's really interesting to work through that in images and through songwriting. I like that a lot.

Did you find, when you were writing, that it was ever getting too hard to do, to face those things within yourself?

Yeah, there's a couple songs that I know for sure are gonna be a challenge. I don't know to which extent. There's one song called "Je veux rentrer" that is particularly direct and rough, but I mean it was vital for me and my recollection of the events to tell it as it was.

And also there's a song called "De honte et de pardon," which is the last song on the record, which really speaks about the other side. So you know, being in a relationship with someone who abuses somebody else and then you're on the other side and feeling guilty by proxy. It's just a horrible feeling. And it's not stuff that I'm going to have a fun time singing, that's for sure. But they're important and it helps me reappropriate the events and, you know, regain control of what happened to me, and I find that really interesting.

Coeur de pirate

The National

5 years ago
Quebec’s Beatrice Martin (aka Coeur de pirate) is now writing songs in both English and French. Her latest collection has earned her a Juno song writing nomination. 10:16

Could you go into more detail about where "Je veux rentrer" came from?

"Je veux rentrer" is about conjugal rape. So it's very clear it's about the grey area between, you know, if you're in a relationship with someone, where is consent and how do you give consent, and is it normal that you live through these things if you're supposed to be in love and you're supposed to be with the person you love the most? You know, what is right and what is wrong.

And for me it's because I really based [it] on something that happened to me and I didn't really know how to react. And it happened over a long period of time and eventually the trauma really sets in and you're like, wearing three layers of pajamas at night because of [laughs] — you know it's like, I'm laughing about it now but it's terrible. It's like all these events lead up to this one song that is really me saying I can get over this and I feel so much better now. It's still traumatizing, of course. You know you're never fully healed. That doesn't happen. But you definitely — like even through the rhythm of the song, which is very much based off tango, which is about tension, about violence and about love. That to me is a way for me to own what happened.

You were saying that this would be one of the songs that would be tough to perform — do you have any strategies to get through that?

Yeah. Through movement ... to use dance, too, and use the movement to just regain control of my body. It's like the events don't own me; I own my history and, you know, this is how I want to tell it. But it's not an easy thing to do, it took a while.

Because you're talking about such personal things and you've also talked previously about how the media is so invasive, did you ever think that you were revealing too much that you wouldn't want to talk about, or anything along those lines?

Now on social media I'm very much like, the 20th degree. I try to not take myself seriously, like I talk about generally important things and promo-wise but I'm not going to talk about my life, I'm not going to talk about who I'm dating. That's over. And that's it. That's how I'm going to deal with things from now on and I'm really happy about it, because it only concerns me.

You've talked about how this was a form of therapy for yourself, but it's also something you've wanted to make for your fans. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

If nobody cared about my music, I wouldn't force it down their throats, you know? I'm not the kind of person that needs to shine. I kind of got into this line of work by accident. It became a dream I never had. And it's really wonderful. But the feeling to, you know, be recognized on the street and playing shows — and of course I love playing shows, it's amazing, it's so euphoric — but it's like that recognition, I don't really need it. And for me to step outside in the light again, I never thought I would do it again. I was ready to help others, I was ready to write music for movies and, you know, other stuff — still do music but do it elsewhere. I just thought, I still have a role to play for this record. And then, you know, we'll see.

Your last album was in both English and French, and I was wondering how you decide what language you want to create in?

For this record, because the subjects are so, I guess, extreme [laughs] … it's easier for me to write in French overall because it's my mother tongue, and obviously even though I'm bilingual it'll still be easier for me to do that. And because I wanted a certain complexity and I wanted to really be a master of what I'm doing, I needed to do it in French. For other things or other subjects, I would definitely go with English again. But for this record I thought it was important to do it in French.

Circling back a little, when you were talking about how you've been working through your anxiety and other things that you've been dealing with: what are you doing to maintain healthiness? You talked about it being a big low when you were coming off of that last tour, and I can imagine it's a scary thing, to think about going back to that.

Yeah. I think it's mostly about having the right people around you. I am scared that, you know, it will happen again, I'll be in a dark place and of course, that can always happen. Especially when you travel so much, the jetlag kind of gets to you and it's tough [laughs]. But I manage, you know? Like I try to stay healthy and I work out a lot and catch some sleep when I can but definitely it's not an easy thing to achieve all the time.

You've been doing this for 10 years now — what would your advice be to your younger self?

Maybe not be too, like, savage. I was so scared of everyone [laughs]. I was like this cat they would put in a bath ... so maybe just be more open to people. But you know, you take any 19-year-old and you throw them in that kind of crazy life, like all of a sudden everybody knows who you are — it's just really weird. I did good; I feel like I did OK. And it could have gone way worse. But yeah, like maybe just like chill for a second [laughs].

Pre-order En cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé via Dare to Care Records.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?